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Dave Brubeck: The Master of Improvisation And Unusual Rhythms

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By : Duane Shinn    99 or more times read
Submitted 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck is one of the stalwarts of jazz piano. His music is characterized by unusual time signatures and can be either extreme - totally dynamic or or completely relaxed. His most famous piece - Take Five - is so popular it has taken on almost cult status, and rightfully so.

David Warren Brubeck (aka Dave Brubeck)was born on the 6th of December, 1920. His thing for music came from his mother - an aspiring concert pianist who was formally taught. She used to take piano classes to supplement her income. Despite having such organized music at home, Dave Brubeck took to his own way of learning and playing the piano opting to create his own melodies. He purposely avoided a situation where he had to read music and play using his bad eyesight as an excuse.

When in college, it was discovered that he could not read written music. This caused for the professor in charge to take action and expel him but his other professors stood by the fact that despite his inability to read music, he had a good abilities when it came to counterpointing and harmony. Taking his case as an exception, it was decided that he be allowed to graduate from the institute promising to never teach piano.

Armed with a degree from the University Of The Pacific, he was drafted to join the army in 1942. During his service in the army, he met his future partner in music, saxaphonist Paul Desmond. While serving in the US Defence Forces, he played in a band which brought both fame and dislike to his musical stylings.

After almost four years serving in the Army, he went back to college and got himself enrolled in Mills College in Oakland, California. There he studied with the French composer Darius Milhaud who recognized his unusual talent for improvisation and uncommon rhythms.

Immediately after finishing his course in Mills College, he was signed to Fantasy Records in Berkeley California. He started singing with an octet and a trio which eventually became a quartet when Army pal Paul Desmond joined the group which originally included Cal Tjader and Ron Crotty.

Taking after his inclination to play music that was more unusual than not at the time, they recorded some music which didn't have enough mass appeal to be a success which hence gave them very few gigs. After failing to draw in crowds, Dave Brubeck spent many years playing nothing but the opposite of what he had intended to when he started out playing jazz standards with the other members of the trio except Paul Desmond.

In 1951 after an almost fatal swimming accident, Dave formed his next group The Dave Brubeck Quartet - this time with Desmond in it. They were the house band for awhile at the Black hawk nightclub in San Francisco. The new quartet was very successful. They started touring college campuses and made a series of recordings including Jazz At Oberlin, Jazz Goes To College and Jazz Goes To Junior College.

The fame and success got Dave Brubeck space on the cover of Time Magazine - the only jazz musician to have the honor since Louis Armstrong. Sometime around the mid 1950's one half of the group - two members Bob Bates and Joe Dodge - quit the group. They were replaced by Eugene Wright and Joe Morello. Eugene Wright's presence in the band put the band on a black list for some venues since he he was a African American. Many concerts were called off because club owners were averse to having an African-American play in their premises.

Upon realizing that there were plans to not film Wright during a particular television show on which they were performing ,Dave canceled the appearance, winning praise from other musicians and many jazz critics. 1959 saw the release of Time Out which had the one quality of Dave Brubeck that he is known by today - unusual time signatures. Despite them not being in common time but instead in 5/4 time, the album was a hit and the album was soon certified platinum. When Dave plays Take Five at concerts, the audience almost always goes wild with applause.

Dave's next act was a musical that he and his wife Iola wrote - a jazz musical based on the experiences that they had during an international tour on behalf of the US State Department. It had all the big names of the time - Louis Armstrong, Hendricks & Ross, Lambert and Carmen McRae. Later albums of the quartet include Time Further Out: Miro Reflections (1961), Countdown: Time in Outer Space,Time Changes and Time In. All these albums had iconic album covers by contemporary artists. They held a concert titled At Carnegie Hall in 1963 which was described as Dave Brubeck's greatest concert, but 40 years later he is still playing great concert after great concert.
Author Resource:- Duane Shinn is the author of the popular online newsletter on piano chords, available free at "Exciting Piano Chords & Chord Progressions!"
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